tharoor128_SAM PANTHAKYAFPGetty Images_india bjp social media Sam Panthaky/AFP/Getty Images

India’s New Social Media Politics

As India's general election continues, there has been little progress in stopping “fake news,” arresting its perpetrators, or limiting its spread. That's because the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is responsible for disseminating much of it.

NEW DELHI – With India’s general election a few weeks away from its conclusion, a crucial question needs to be revisited: what role have social media played in them?

Conventional wisdom had it that, in the Indian context, one should always be skeptical about the reach and political impact of social media. In 2013, a year before the last general election, the IRIS Knowledge Foundation and the Internet and Mobile Association of India conducted a study suggesting that in 160 constituencies (of 543 in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s parliament), the margin of victory was smaller than the number of social media users, or over 10% of the population was on social media. It estimated that by the 2014 election, as many as 80 million Indians would be using social media, and asserted that this was a vote bank that no politician could afford to ignore.

If that was true then, it’s a lot truer now. I haven’t seen a comparable study recently, but the numbers have of course grown since 2014. With some 625 million Internet users in India, and  upwards of 80% of Internet use on mobile phones, there could be 625 million pairs of eyes looking at social media during the 2019 election – nearly eight times more than in 2014.

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